Daria Morgendorffer


“Mom's resentful that she has to work so hard, which obscures her guilt about actually wanting to work so hard. Dad's guilty about being less driven than mom, but thinks it's wrong to feel that way, so he hides behind a smokescreen of cluelessness. Quinn wears superficiality like a suit of armor, because she's afraid of looking inside and finding absolutely nothing. And I'm so defendant that I actively work to make people dislike me so I won't feel bad when they do. Can I go now?” - Episode #404, "Psycho Therapy"

Daria Morgendorffer is a semi-average 16-year-old that is the star of MTV’s cartoon comedy Daria. While the show only ran from 1997-2002, it is a favorite with the younger generation to this day. With her monotonous voice, poker face, and seemingly apathetic attitude, it can be questioned if Daria really has any personality at all. However, all of those traits are what makes her personality unique; one that is deep and complex, and difficult to figure out (Eichler, 1997-2002).

After a few cameos on the ever-popular MTV cartoon, Beavis and Butthead, Daria received her own spinoff show that highlights the daily life of a teenager who just doesn’t care. The show starts when she moves to Lawndale with her family. Her family consists of her slightly neurotic father, Jake, workaholic mother, Helen, and self-absorbed teenybopper sister, Quinn. Although they are a little dysfunctional, and couldn’t all be more different, they do share a roof, and there is always plenty of interesting interaction between them (Eichler, 1997-2002).

Although book-smart, Daria hates school. Her condescending teachers, the popular Fashion Club, and the less-than-intelligent quarterback/cheerleader duo, Brittany and Kevin, all reinforce her pessimistic and cynical outlook on life (Eichler, 1997-2002).

The only one that seems to understand Daria is her best friend, Jane Lane, who she met in the first episode, during their after-school “self-esteem” class. Like Daria, Jane is sarcastic and cynical, but perhaps a bit more outgoing and even at times optimistic. They cope together by watching endless episodes of Sick, Sad, World, and getting pizza at the local pizza place (Eichler, 1997-2002).

Trait/Skill Perspective

Anyone that has seen Daria can instantly describe her. The most common words someone would use to do so might include: sarcastic, cynical, witty, and intelligent. Her strange and negative characteristics are what shape her – which is not usual in terms of many other T.V. show main characters. She encompasses endless traits and adjectives, which is what makes the Trait and Skill approach ideal to describe her. The Trait and Skill approach is one that uses adjectives to describe individuals. These adjectives can be bunched together in sets, or used by themselves (Friedman, 2009, p. 257).

One of the first people that described traits of personality was Hippocrates. Hippocrates theorized that traits of personality were characterized by the abundance or lack of four bodily humors – blood, yellow bile, phlegm, and black bile. Each of these humors has their own traits (Friedman, 2009, p. 258). According to Hippocrates, Daria is largely “phlegmatic,” phlegmatic meaning slow and apathetic – which, especially the apathy, is seen in almost every episode of the show. This must mean that Daria has an abundance of phlegm; which sounds ridiculous in this day and age. However, this system is relevant because it separated people into categories, which is the basis for many trait personality theories.

In the 1960’s, a trait approach called the Big Five was developed. The Big Five Personality Assessment is a highly researched approach (instead of theory-based, like many previous approaches,) that suggests personality has five dimensions. These dimensions, extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness, are present in each person either to a small degree, or a large degree (Friedman, 2009, p. 267). Where someone lands on the scale of each of these traits is indicative of who they are, according to a lot of research. Different psychological journals often cite the Big Five and use it when comparing individuals or groups. Just by watching Daria through several seasons, it can be easily concluded what level of each Big Five trait she has (Eichler, 1997-2002). The first trait is extroversion, which is a dimension that includes how sociable and enthusiastic a person is (Friedman, 2009, p. 267). Daria would be low in extroversion, because, as previously stated, Daria is quite introverted, meaning she is shy and submissive. Agreeableness is the extent to which someone is nice, cooperative, and pleasant (Friedman, 2009, p. 267). Daria would be low in agreeableness. While she may be cooperative, she is usually very cold, and isn’t always pleasant to others. Conscientiousness is a dimension that measures how impulsive people are (Friedman, 2009, p. 267). Conscientious people are responsible and cautious. Daria would probably be in the middle in conscientiousness. She is responsible in some ways, for example, her mother is always sending her to “watch” Quinn, however, she is not always cautious with what she says about people. She isn’t overly impulsive either, though. Neuroticism is defined by whether someone is tense, moody, and nervous (Friedman, 2009, p. 267). Daria seems to be low in neuroticism – she is usually pretty calm – and always has only one mood: annoyed. The last trait is openness, which Daria would also in the middle in. People that are open are open to art, culture, and appear imaginative and original (Friedman, 2009, p. 267). Daria is many of those things, but only in the right setting. People that are low in openness are plain and simple, which can be concluded of Daria at some times – because of her plain appearance and attitude.

All of these findings can lead us to some conclusions about Daria’s personality. Technically, Daria is not high in any of these traits, which is probably why she is so stable and seems to be so bland. If she was high on any of these things, she probably would have more interests and hobbies that are specific to her - and she would probably have more friends. To understand this concept, we can contrast Daria with her best friend Jane. While they are both similar, Jane has a strong passion and appreciation for art. She is a little bit more optimistic, and is more expressive, physically and vocally (Eichler, 1997-2002). Because of these things, she probably is higher in agreeableness, extroversion, neuroticism, and especially openness.

The expressive style of Daria is one that can’t be missed. She doesn’t have any change in tone of her voice, even when surprised, angry, or happy. She doesn’t use hand gestures, and as she says in Episode 13, “I don’t like to smile unless I have a reason to.” (Daria). There usually is at least one Daria smile in each episode, but it’s typically after something funny or bad has happened to a family member, classmate, or another enemy. She also typically stands with her arms crossed (Eichler, 1997-2002).

All of these physical expressions, or lack thereof, mean something about her personality, according to Gordon Allport (Friedman, 2009, p. 286). Immediately if someone was talking in a monotonous way, we could conclude they were bored, boring, or annoyed. Not smiling for long periods of time would lead us to conclude someone isn’t outwardly happy, enthusiastic, and might be little on the sad side. Lastly, standing with arms cross could lead us to believe that someone has a hard time letting people in – which is completely consistent of Daria.

It has also been suggested that people that are outwardly less expressive are more internally reactive, while people that are expressive, are calmer inside (Friedman, 2009, p. 286). This applies to Daria, because she probably has deep inner struggles related to herself, but doesn’t allow them to show. Although she may appear uncaring, Daria does have feeling, which will be talked about during the Neo-Analytic analysis.

Neo-Analytic /Ego Perspective

The Neo-Analytic approach to psychology is one that is concerned with how a person see’s themselves, as the main basis to their personality. The “ego” can be used to mean one’s “sense of self.” Key contributors to the Neo-Analytic approach are Jung, Adler, and Erikson, and each of their unique approaches can be used to analyze Daria’s personality (Friedman, 2009, p. 110).

Carl Jung was one of the father’s of the Neo-Analytic approach. One of his famous psychological theories is that of archetypes. Archetypes are powerful emotional symbols that all people have that have been in existence since the beginning of time. Having these emotional patterns predispositions us to react in certain ways (Friedman, 2009, p. 113). One that is arguably specific to Daria is that of the persona and shadow archetype. These two archetypes are opposite and represent how we present ourselves on the outside (persona) and how we actually feel on the inside (shadow). The persona is how we maintain a socially acceptable image, and the shadow is the dark and undesirable thoughts we have deep down (Friedman, 2009, p. 114). Although it may seem like Daria does not have a filter and doesn’t mind being socially unacceptable, there is a lot she keeps to herself. Her normal persona is quiet, boring, and sarcastic – which are all things that are in her mind “socially desirable” – at least because it separates her from the people she dislikes. It’s also interesting because sometimes her “shadow” does show through – especially when making comments to people’s faces about their lack of intelligence, shallowness, etc. Usually this is in the form of sarcasm, so people think she is joking.

Another part of Jung’s approach is describing two attitudes of people: extroversion and introversion. Although these two ideas exist in each people, some people adopt more of one attitude than the other. Extroversion is characterized by directing psychic energy outwards, to the world, and introversion is characterized by directing energy inside (Friedman, 2009, p. 117). Daria is highly introverted. Because she channels her thoughts and feelings inward, she is seen as emotionless and cold – her signature characteristics (Eichler, 1997-2002).

Alfred Adler, another Neo-Analytic psychologist, coined the term inferiority complex in the early 1900’s. He believed that a large part of personality is due to one striving to be the best. When someone experiences something that may make them feel inferior, they may develop an inferiority complex. One way people cope with this is by overcompensating and creating a superiority complex, which is exaggerated cockiness and arrogance in the presence of other people, in order to feel better about their inferiority (Friedman, 2009, p. 119). Although at face value, Daria may not seem “conceited,” she does often have a lot to say to other people about their flaws. Perhaps Daria may feel inferior because she isn’t popular or good-looking, so that’s why she has developed a pattern of superiority, where she feels as though Jane and herself are the only sane people at Lawndale High.

The theory that holds the most outlooks on Daria’s true feelings is that of Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages. These stages illustrate eight “stages” each human goes through in life. In each stage, a person goes through a conflict. If resolved, the person then benefits and goes to the next stage. If the conflict is not resolved, then the person takes with them the negative aspect of that stage with them for much of their life (Friedman, 2009, p. 135). As a young adult, Daria seems to be on the brink of the sixth stage of “intimacy vs. isolation” (Friedman, 2009, p. 138). In terms of intimate friend relationships, Daria only has one. She has no strong social ties, and doesn’t immerse herself in any social situation, unless she is with Jane. For these reasons, she is a social outcast, and is loner. While she pretends to not mind this on the surface, as mentioned before, that could be part of her superiority complex covering up for her sadness and insecurity for not having many friends. In terms of romantic intimacy, Daria is a bit different. In seasons one through three, we see that Daria is afraid of intimacy, and afraid of admitting any true feelings of wanting to be close to someone. It’s suggested several times that Daria may happen to have a crush on Jane’s older brother, Trent. However, she doesn’t do anything about it, because she doesn’t want to be vulnerable. During season three, Jane meets a boy Tom, who Daria immediately has a strong dislike for. The idea that her only friend is showing interest in someone else upsets her. This is the first time we see any true emotion out of Daria (Eichler, 1997-2002).

Eventually around season four, when we see Daria getting involved with Jane’s ex, Tom, we see another different side of her. When she does have close relationships, her true feelings show, and she actually allows herself to like someone. Although she struggles with this throughout the course of her and Tom’s relationship, it finally works out, especially during the episode ‘My Night with Daria’ – in which she questions whether or not she should take her and Tom’s relationship “to the next level” (Eichler, 1997-2002) She decides not to, and at the end of the episode, Tom lets her know they did reach the next level of their relationship – without being physically intimate. This is a strong indicator that she has reached the goal of this stage: becoming emotionally comfortable with someone on a deep level. It seems as though her years in high school were a progression through this stage: she started off being isolated and not allowing close relationships with hardly anyone. In contrast, by the end of season five, she is still with Tom, and seems to let herself finally become intimate romantically, and with others (Eichler, 1997-2002).


The aforementioned approaches are the best ways to describe someone like Daria. Daria is someone that is not easily described. Using the trait approach to piece Daria apart was beneficial because we noticed that she is complex – she is someone that is low on many aspects of the Big Five, which is pretty remarkable, and is someone that is completely unexpressive – yet can be figured out just by knowing that. As someone who is more than the little that she puts off, it was imperative to look to the “self” of Daria, and to take the Neo-Analytic approach. Keeping in mind that the “self” is the basis of personality, we drew a very different conclusion than someone would about her personality, had they only took her outward self into consideration.

These two approaches have shown that Daria, the seemingly personality-less individual, is actually a character of depth – one that has struggled with feeling alone, inferior and different, and has hid behind a mask of apathy. Although she always points the finger at others, it has been suggested that Daria is actually her own worst enemy. By showing no emotion on the outside, she hides the bad feelings that she is having on the inside.

However, these approaches also gave insight to how people mature and how personalities can change, for the better, all with time and some inner-soul searching. Fortunately, by season five, Daria has looked inside herself enough to become more sympathetic, and closer to her family and friends, before she leaves for the biggest journey of her life – college (Eichler, 1997-2002).

Daria will remain one of the most brilliant shows ever to be on air, as well as one of the most insightful. This show has been the most psychologically accurate out there of describing the life and minds of teenagers, especially the misunderstood ones, like Daria.


Daria season 1-4 episode guide on tv.com. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.tv.com/daria/show/756/episode.html?tag=list_header;paginator;All&season=All

Eichler, G (Director). (1997-2002). [Television series episode]. Daria. MTV.

Friedman, H. S. & Schustack, M. W. (2009). Personality: Classic theories and modern research (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.